A Comparative Assessment of Food Deserts Using Geograpic Information Systems (GIS) in El Paso County, TX, and Loudoun County, VA

Amit Ugamraj Raysoni, University of Texas at El Paso


BACKGROUND & SIGNIFICANCE: Consumption of processed foods high in sodium and fat can have a plethora of health complications, including, but not limited to hypertension, high cholesterol levels, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Previous studies have documented that lack of access to viable healthy eating options– grocery stores selling affordable fresh fruits and vegetables – in any neighborhood or area can result in negative public health outcomes. These areas devoid of such grocery stores and healthy eating options can be classified as ‘Food Deserts’, as per one of the criteria adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition, if a census tract that has more than 20 percent poverty rate and the median family income is less than or equal to 80 percent of the state-wide median family income can also be classified as a ‘Food Desert’. HYPOTHESES: This research work is premised on two hypotheses: 1) census tracts that are predominantly of Hispanic/Latino origin would have a dearth of grocery stores in contrast to more affluent and mixed neighborhoods, and 2) lack of access to public transportation can hamper people’s access to grocery stores subsequently impacting their overall health status in both the counties. AIMS & OBJECTIVES: Using various advanced Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques, this research work identified and compared the census tracts in El Paso County, TX and Loudoun County, VA that could be classified as a typical ‘Food Desert’. Loudoun County is the richest county in the United States in terms of median income per household ($ 118,000) and is an apt contrast with the El Paso County, TX that is not only majority-minority (81.3% Hispanic/Latino) but also has a low median income per household ($ 41,637). METHODS: Census tracts for both counties were obtained from US Census 2017 TIGER/Line Shapefiles. Various demographic and Socio-Economic variables were obtained from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2015 ACS 5-year estimates. GIS spatial techniques such as Clusters Mapping, Cluster and Outlier Analysis, and Hot Spot Analysis were employed to test the two hypotheses. RESULTS: Certain census tracts in the southeast, eastern, and north-west part of El Paso County could be categorized as ‘Food Deserts’. Similarly, census tracts in the north-central, north-western and south-western part of Loudoun County could also be deemed as ‘Food Deserts’. Transportation was not an issue in terms of access to grocery stores for the Hispanics in Loudoun County but transportation was limited in some areas in El Paso County. CONCLUSIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS: Findings from this research helped identify the census tracts of ‘Food Deserts’ in two counties populated by Hispanics, one affluent and one low-income. Information emanating from this research will help policy makers and city planners draft healthy living guidelines in terms of siting and facilitating access to grocery stores in many low-income neighborhoods.

Subject Area

Geographic information science|Health sciences

Recommended Citation

Raysoni, Amit Ugamraj, "A Comparative Assessment of Food Deserts Using Geograpic Information Systems (GIS) in El Paso County, TX, and Loudoun County, VA" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10931817.